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‘Lone Star Spirits’ at Freefall is an energetic, touching comedy

The St. Petersburg production earned nonstop laughter from the audience. | Review

ST. PETERSBURG — Spoiler alert: There will be gunshots during Lone Star Spirits, the Freefall Theatre play produced in collaboration with Gainesville’s Hippodrome.

But the comedy is set in a tiny, nearly deserted Texas town, so that’s to be somewhat expected.

Written by Josh Tobiessen, the play takes place inside Lone Star Spirits liquor store. The set, designed by Ken Brown, is impeccably dressed with dingy walls full of beer and liquor signs and a steer skull, with shelves stocked full of liquor.

We first meet Drew (played with swagger by Haulston Mann), an overly confident young man stuck in the past of his glory days as a high school football star. He hangs around the store to visit Walter (the empathetic Bryan Mercer), who owns the store and is the father of Drew’s former girlfriend, Marley. They’re close, and as the play progresses it’s clear that the relationship is almost father-son.

Walter’s relationship with Marley (Marissa Toogood) is another story. She had left town years ago and is now a lawyer in Austin. After many years, she comes to visit, bringing along her hipster fiance, Ben (Niall McGinty), under the premise that he wanted to see where she came from. Things are awkward and tense. McGinty plays the pretentious but well-meaning character with authenticity. Toogood does an equally good job of nailing the sentiment of outgrowing her small-town roots.

Jessica (Brooke Taylor Benson) is an old high school friend of Marley’s who also frequents the store. She’s a hardworking nurse and single mom who rarely gets any time for herself. Benson’s spot-on portrayal of her is saucy and quick-witted, yet weary.

As Drew, Mann struts around the stage like a peacock, even flexing his pectoral muscles. He’s still got a thing for Marley, and views Ben as competition, always trying to ridicule and outdo him. Mann’s physical comedy and comedic timing earned him the biggest audience reaction.

And there’s an unseen character, Henry, the ghost of the bear-wrestling pioneer who founded the town. Walter believes that he haunts the store, which used to be his home. They offer libations to a picture of him. He becomes the symbol of the clash of the past and the present for these people.

Directed by Stephanie Lynge, the dialogue had the pacing of a television sitcom, and the audience’s laughter was so ebullient and often that it almost felt like a laugh track.

But there are also tender moments that reveal how much the characters mean to each other, emphasizing the fluid definition of family.

IF YOU GO

Lone Star Spirits

Runs through March 29. $40-$50. 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 498-5205. freefalltheatre.com.

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